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Mortal Kombat: Legacy began as little more than a fan-film project designed to demonstrate that choreographer Kevin Tancharoen, best known for directing the 2009 Fame remake, could create more than just dance movies. However, with its hard-hitting action, top-notch martial arts choreography and recognizable cast, Legacy ended up not just being an attempt to update the Mortal Kombat franchise, but a series that explores the boundaries of online video.
Tancharoen told reporters at Comic-Con International in San Diego that when he put together the predecessor to Legacy, the 2010 fan film Mortal Kombat: Rebirth, he wasn’t expecting to be handed the keys to the franchise. Instead, he was merely looking for a way to branch out from the films he’d been working on and move more into the action or drama arenas.
“All my background is in performance stuff – singing and dancing,” he explained. “I’m directing Glee 3D right now, so obviously that’s not in the same wheelhouse, action/horror/martial arts, so I knew I was going to have to do it by myself.”
His plan was to just use Rebirth, which transplanted the Mortal Kombat characters into an atmospheric mystery setting reminiscent of Se7en, as a demo reel. The unlicensed short, which starred Michael Jai White, Jeri Ryan and Ian Anthony Dale, was never intended to be made public.
“Then it ended up getting leaked on the Internet and it became a big online video,” Tancharoen said. “From there I got a call from Warner Bros., and I was a little nervous, because I was afraid they were going to sue me!”
As it turned out, Rebirth became an online sensation just as the studio was starting to build its campaign for the latest Mortal Kombat video game, leading many fans to think the short was part of a viral-marketing effort. Warner Bros. saw the chance to build on the popularity of the video, and hired Tanchaeroen to create Legacy, which hews closer to the traditional Mortal Kombat mythos than the original short.
“When MK:R came out, I was in front of my computer like everyone else with my jaw dropped, wondering what is this!” said Ed Boon, creator of the Mortal Kombat franchise. “It was done so well, we immediately contacted Kevin and asked him to make this.”
With an expanded budget, Tancharoen was able to transform what had been a twisted horror/detective story into an action movie, utilizing the martial-arts tales of the cast members of the original short. However, while more money was able to be devoted to action, it meant doing everything on a tight schedule. Fortunately for the director, many of the actors were old hands at that scenario.
“I’ve worked in China where you learn the fight scene 15 minutes before you shoot it,” said White, who plays Jackson Briggs. “I’m used to it.”
“Time is not your friend,” said Larnell Stovall, the fight choreographer. “For a normal two-minute fight scene, you might have two days for coverage. For a web series, I might have three hours to shoot it, so I have to cut it down to a one-minute fight scene. I’m sure some of the fans wish some of the fights were longer, and originally they were, but we didn’t have time to shoot them all. Fortunately, the actors were so well rehearsed, if the fight scene was 10 sections, and I told them the fight was only six sections so it could have a beginning, middle and end, they could do it.”
“I just finished working on The Event a few months ago,” said Dale, who plays Scorpion. “We had a huge budget for that – every episode was like a mini-movie. So going to shoot MK:L in Vancouver was a pretty big change of pace. But what is similar about the two projects is you’ve got this great collaborative group that’s really excited about what they’re making. Everybody knew that this was something that could be really cool. We’re kind of reinventing what’s possible on the web.”